The Other Other White Meat

Maybe you’ve seen them. The billboards with 3-D cows, scribbling the suggestion that we “Eat Mor Chickin”

Brilliant. And the cows parachuting onto the football field in the latest TV ad is pretty good, too. My five year old had all kinds of questions when he saw that!

From the standpoint of brand campaigns, Chick-fil-A seems to be on target. They put out a calendar for this year with various cow characters, that my kids “had to have.”

This is a company I like for a couple reasons. One, their marketing is creative. And two, they are principled (for instance, all stores are closed on Sunday, to observe a day of rest). A rare combination.

A few quibbles on their brand presentation, however:

- The logo doesn’t pass the T-shirt test. I wouldn’t want to wear it.

- The tagline, “We didn’t invent the chicken, just the chicken sandwich” really doesn’t stick. It’s talking about past history (they have far more than a sandwich now), and it doesn’t create a connection with the audience. Something along the lines of, “We Admit it – We’re Chicken!” or “Proud to be Chicken!” would put an interesting 180 degree twist on a familiar phrase.

- Removing country-boy nicknames (“Bubba”/”Buck”/”Woody”) from key corporate staff names on the website would help make the company look more serious.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that I finally had the opportunity to go to one of their stores and have a chicken sandwich. This was one of those times when the brand experience had included everything BUT the final “deliverable” – the food. I’m glad to say that it was quite tasty, and I won’t hesitate to “Eat Mor Chickin” at Chick-Fil-A. Just keep those parachuting cows out of my yard!

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We mainline a lot of coffee here in the U.S., and with good reason. We’re not like those Old World tea drinkers, hoisting a presumptuous pinky in the air while sipping a weak-spined brew of putting-on-airs leaf extract. No sirree!! We want some hearty joe, preferably to go, to jump-start some serious red blood pumping so that we can get stuff done. Java and calorie-encrusted donuts, Yes! A “spot of tea” and delicate crumpets – er, no.

So, how are the coffee companies doing on their branding exercises?

Ignoring the supermarket/mass market brands (Folgers, Maxwell House, and the like) which bear some resemblance to coffee but carry no interest from a branding perspective – or a drinking perspective, for that matter – I’ll give a few thoughts to coffee brands I actually like.

Starbucks - blah, blah, blah, everyone’s talked about Starbucks. I know, I know. But credit must be given where it is due – they turned coffee into an experience. They “branded” coffee into the realms of fine beers and wines, with various beans and roasts, highbrow terms, etc. Fact is, most of the coffee just tastes good, for those of us that prefer stronger flavors to amorphous swills. And their pioneering use of the Starbucks debit card was brilliant. These people have continuously found ways to build user experience around their brand, and the dollars keep ending up in their tills. I wish they’d open one up in my town.

Dunkin’ Donuts – growing up in the Northeast, I’ve always known about DD. Their coffee was always reasonably good, and they were the donut/coffee shop for the blue collar set. Get a big joe and a cruller and off to pound some nails!

Some years ago, they came out, in some markets, with a Dark Roast that was pretty darn good – then they killed it. Boy, was that stupid (personal peeve). Their new campaign, however, “America runs on Dunkin'”, is pretty good. With that phrase, they’re preserving their more “functional” identity, but they are slowly moving up the food chain into a higher quality niche, with cappuccino drinks, etc. I still stop at DD’s, without shame, though typically feeling more at home when there in denims and a flannel shirt.

Then there’s Krispy Kreme. These people actually have pretty good coffee, though their core message and branding is around the donuts. Fact is, decades ago when I went to college in the South, KK’s were viewed as budget gut-fillers. Then, someone turned their shops into an experience, where you could get a free one “Hot Now” as they rolled off the line. We now drive 1 mile (each way) out of our way on trips to Connecticut just to go to KK, since the kids love the experience as much as the adults like the coffee. And, yes, I have a KK shirt and thermal mug, despite the fact the logo is pretty dated.

And now, two surprise entries. Not big, well-known chains. What is our workaday, regular morning coffee? Kirkland (from Costco). Incredibly affordable in those 3-lb. cans, and consistently good. Not great, but quite good enough for the daily fix. From a price/benefit ratio, can’t beat it. No cool logo, no great tagline, no catchy campaign – just solid performance. Sometimes I’ll mix in some Eight O’Clock dark roast just to make it a bit heartier.

Then, my all-time favorite coffee – Mill Mountain. From a little group of coffee shops in central Virginia. Mill Mountain Blend is roasted and ground on site, and it is strong. Walk around downtown Roanoke at the right time, and the olfactory branding experience is almost irresistible. I’m sure there are hundreds of places like this – the bags may be plain, and the branding identity undistinguished, but the joe sells itself after one sip. I’ve been known to go to extraordinary lengths to get a few pounds of Mill Mountain smuggled into New Jersey so that I can have a few fleeting weeks of peak Java experience before, sadly, having to return to more pedestrian sipping…

What are your favorites? Add a comment above!

On the Double

For many years, I’ve had a bias toward Doubletree Hotels.

Why? Two reasons.

Masterful branding. And cookies.

If you’ve stayed at a Doubletree, you know that they have (very tasty!) fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies at the front desk when you check in. You can smell them. You can almost taste them as you sign for your room. And, you go through the inevitable, “Should I ruin my dinner appetite and indulge right now?” thought process as your drop your luggage onto your bed…then inevitably give in and enjoy that delicious treat right then and there.

The other reason, and you’ll think I’m off my rocker for saying it, is their logo. Back in the day, Doubletree merged with a chain called Guest Quarters. They had to come up with an identity that somehow communicated the fact that the two were now one, but that allowed for the fact that the name “Doubletree” was going to be the final name going forward.

Take another look at the logo. At this point, 99.8% of the population only sees two trees. But what are the two stylized letters embedded in the symbol? G and Q, for Guest Quarters. Brilliant.

In the short term, Guest Quarters had a “presence” in the new branding. But over time, that simply faded away, and the attractive “double tree” graphic maintained its strength.

Most hotels in the Doubletree strata have fairly common elements – nice rooms, nice lobby, nice people, nice restaurant, etc. But Doubletree has delicious cookies. And a brand identity that I can’t help but admire.

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A good necessary evil

I can’t think of anyone that enjoys paying for insurance. It’s intangible (hopefully!). You’re trading x hundreds of dollars for….nothing you can hold in your hand.

But when you need it, you’re glad you paid. And when you deal with a company like Amica, you almost (almost!) don’t feel too bad writing the check.


Perhaps you’ve never heard of Amica. If Northwestern Mutual is the quiet company, Amica seems almost mute. But I can think of few – if any – companies that have engendered such a high degree of my brand loyalty.

Back a lifetime or so ago (25 years), you could only get a policy with Amica by recommendation of a current policyholder (I “married into” an Amica-covered family!). There was little or no advertising – marketing was word-of-mouth. This led to an exceptionally high quality pool of policyholders. And the key to retention was unbelievably responsive customer service, which remains a signature feature of Amica to this day. This little-known company always ranks at or near the very top when customers are surveyed for satisfaction regarding their insurance providers.

Nowadays, they do some advertising, though you won’t find too many Amica ads running during the Super Bowl, or occupying full-page spreads in the Wall Street Journal. Not too many years back, they did some re-branding – alas, the logo they chose is pretty stodgy, but attachment to this company goes way beyond the skin-deep appearance of its brand image. Their current tagline is, “It’s not just how you’re covered. It’s how you’re treated.” Not the snappiest set of words I’ve ever seen, but the message is a dead-on accurate summary of their core distinctive.

The highest goal for an organization is to create brand evangelists. Amica not only has policyholders – they have organic word-of-mouth marketers. When you have superb service, you don’t need to throw millions out the window making 30 seconds of noise at the Super Bowl.

Impactiviti scale:

Follow-up: Amica decided to highlight this posting on their website…I suspect most companies rarely get a positive, unsolicited review!

Impactiviti provides strategic consulting services to increase brand impact.

The Migraine of Marketing

It’s annoying. Even aggravating. And way too effective.

Perhaps you’ve seen those cheesy “HeadOn” TV commercials. Produced at low cost, with very (shall we say) basic production values, these are still some of the most impactful commercials I’ve seen in years. All they do is repeat, three times, “HeadOn – Apply directly to the forehead” – like a bad record with a skip (note: if you are younger than 30, please consult one of your elders for an explanation of this last reference).

I hate the ads. And, for crying out loud, I also think they’re fabulously effective. I’ll never use the product, which I suspect is nothing more than a homeopathic placebo. But, in no time, the phrase became common parlance in our household. By sheer repetition, and the ghastly fascination of seeing something really ugly on a regular basis (right after Jeopardy, usually), the tagline worked its way into our vocabulary – and, I suspect, into the minds and mouths of many others as well.

Begrudgingly, I am forced to admire the creative audacity that came up with this. It’s awful – brilliantly awful. And I’d never publicly confess that I wish I’d come up with it, of course…!

Impactiviti scale:


Impactiviti provides strategic consulting services to increase brand impact.

On-line enticement

If I’m ever visiting Southern Vermont, I want to stay at the Windham Hill Inn.

Why? Click here and find out.

Luscious photos. Beautiful web design. “Come hither” wording. Every thing to entice the senses. If computers could download scents, I’m sure this place would send delicious aromas out the keyboard!

And, to boot, a great name – which is how I stumbled across the site (looking for the Windham Hill music site).

According to the owner, business is up significantly since the site was launched. I can believe it. Because the most effective marketing goal has been accomplished. I came. I saw. I want to visit!

Impactiviti scale: (assuming that the experience matches up to the image!)


Impactiviti provides strategic consulting services to increase brand impact.


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